By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
At first glance T's Lounge in West Palm Beach doesn't look like a dump. The waitresses are friendly, the bouncer smiles, and the bathroom is scrubbed and well lit; there's even a guy in there who squirts soap in your hands and produces a warm towel whether or not you put a dollar in his plastic bucket.
But flaws are easily hidden in the dark, says Michael, a self-proclaimed expert on Palm Beach County strip joints. "Come back and look at it in the daylight. It's a shit hole," he says, a grin spreading across his face. "Go over there. In the corner. There's a pole holding up the ceiling."
Then you start noticing things: the dim lighting, the worn carpet, the dirt parking lot, the dancers' demeanor. Nobody enters a strip club without expecting to be shaken down, but at T's the pitch is strident, almost desperate. Turn down one lap dance and you'll still be offered six more during the following 15 minutes. The dancers don't give up easily, and they barely disguise their contempt for men who refuse them.
It's here, where sex equals money and no one is pretending otherwise, that Jim Gunn is in his element. Gunn is holding court at a tiny circular table while a rotating cast of beautiful women stops by and introduces themselves.
Why all the interest from sex-hardened dancers?
It can't be his looks. Gunn, real name James Gauthier, has the doughy physique of a man in his thirties who doesn't exercise or see the light of day enough. His thinning black hair is combed straight back from a high hairline to cover a bald spot. He has a nervous laugh and a toothy grin that make him look like a cross between Rob Schneider and James Belushi.
It can't be that he seems rich. Though he claims a six-figure income, Gunn displays no appearance of wealth. He's wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers. He springs for a few drinks but doesn't throw money around and doesn't tuck a single dollar into a G-string.
And it can't be his charm. He is competent at small talk and is a nice guy, but charisma is irrelevant in strip clubs. That's part of the draw.
It must be his profession: porn entrepreneur. Gunn is one of the few adult-film producers to make a name for himself outside the Southern California epicenter of X-rated movies. Even in South Florida, which is saturated with escort services, adult-video stores, and strip clubs, professional producers of hard-core porn are a novelty. For dancers who've heard every come-on imaginable, Gunn's sales pitch -- "I'll pay you to have sex in one of my nationally distributed movies" -- is usually a new one.
Should they sign on with Gunn, they could earn decent money. Depending upon the sex act and the number of people involved, he pays between $100 and $1000 per scene. Not bad for a couple hours' work.
The women's interest is collectively piqued. As soon as word gets around that Gunn is in the club, they stop by to check him out. Tommi, a striking brunette in a Britney Spears-style schoolgirl uniform, is incredulous. "Are you really a porno guy?"
"Uh-huh," Gunn says with a wide grin.
As proof he produces his Visor, a hand-held computer with a tiny color screen, and pokes at the buttons with the stylus, bringing up a still from a sex scene featuring three women and a large purple dildo. He turns the screen to Tommi and points at one of the women in the shot. "See her? That's Sandy, right over there," he says, gesturing toward a nearby table where a woman with bobbed, ash-blond hair is chatting with a customer.
Sandy spots Gunn and abandons her customer. In a heartbeat she's sitting on his lap. She brings a friend to the table, a 19-year-old college student who goes by the stage name Taijé, pronounced "like the end of Fantasia," she says.
"This is Jim Gunn, the guy I was telling you about," Sandy says to Taijé. "Isn't he funny? He's the most interesting guy I know."
Sandy Knight, also a stage name, had a supporting role in Strap On Sally Number 17, the newest installment in Gunn's lesbian-heavy oeuvre. He met Sandy through a friend of a friend, then came to T's to watch her dance.
In his ten-year career, Gunn has produced almost 100 adult films, from low-budget spanking flicks to full-length feature films complete with scripts and crews. He's known in the porn industry as the guy who eschewed Los Angeles for the lush scenery and fresh faces of South Florida. The area has untapped porn potential. "That's the reason I'm here, and I'm really working hard at it," he says. "That is what makes my movies different too. If there is a hot chick that gets off the bus in Van Nuys [California] from Kansas tomorrow, in one week she could literally make 40 movies and be on the covers of 20 video boxes. And in two months, when the movies start coming out, you are going to see her everywhere. Everybody is shooting the same talent. Out here I am shooting these strippers who I am coaxing into the business for what is, for lack of a better term, part-time work."